jump to navigation

Irish Left Archive: Northern Ireland – For Workers’ Unity: A reply to the Workers’ Association Pamphlet [BICO] “What’s wrong with Ulster Trade Unionism”, Militant, c. 1974 December 13, 2010

Posted by WorldbyStorm in British and Irish Communist Organisation (BICO), Irish Left Online Document Archive, Militant.
trackback

To download the document please click on the following link: MIL BINDER

This document, written by Peter Hadden of Militant, is a fascinating reply to a Workers’ Association Pamphlet. As it notes, in the original WA leaflet there was a proposal to establish an Ulster Trade Union Congress ‘seperate from the ICTU and the British TUC.

It states:

This pamphlet is a reply to one such group [proposing a UTUC]…

It also notes…

The WA have an identical position to that of another group, the British and Irish Communist Organisation. No differences appear betwen the material of these groups. Therefore this pamphlet treats them as identical. One section deals with the broader ideas of these tendencies and the implications of these idea.

It continues:

… this work is not intended merely as an answer to the B&ICO and WA. Sectarianism in NI Has had a shattering effect on the Labour Movement. The Ulster TUC proposal can only serve to worsen this effect. However, just to discard this idea is not enough. It is necessary to work out the ways and means by which flash can be once again put on the Northern Irish TU movement. In rejecting the totally false theories and proposals of the WA, this pamphlet seeks also to provide a positive alternative – a set of class ideas and demands around which the might of Organsed Labour could be brought to the fore.

One aspect that is very interesting is how hostile Militant is to B&ICO/WA.

It argues that:

The aim of the [WA] pamphlet is not to improve the structure of the trade unions in NI, as has been suggested by some, but is to smear the leadership of the TU Movement as ‘republican’ and thereby help discredit them.

It continues:

Many of the pamphlet’s arguments are hair raising indeed! The leaders of the NIC are tried and convicted of the above ‘offence’ on ‘grounds’ which only serve to expose the lack of any class understanding on the part of the Workers Association. The NIC committed such ‘republican’ crimes as refusing to participate in the jubilee celebrations to mark the fifty years of the Northern Ireland state. After fifty years of unemployment and low wages for many of their members what were the trade unions supposed to celebrate? But this action was a symptom of a much more heinous crime! The NIC actually back the demand for civil rights in NI!

And it goes on to say…

Civil Rights, according to the WA was ‘promoted by the republican movement with the objective of weakening internal and international support for the NI Admistration prior to its overthrow’ (P.4). Why socialists should support and defend the rotten tory state and administration in NI we are not told.

Consider the following:

From the erudite thinkers who penned this pamphlet we learn little new about N.I. history. More accurately we find re-invoked the lies and myths about the nature of the N.I. state which for too long the Unionist hierarchy were able to spread. The Civil Rights movement slashed through the web of unionist mythology with facts. Now we find the spider of B&IC and the WA busily at work with its theoretical needle attempting to repair the damage.

There’s far too much material of considerable interest to do justice in a brief introduction such as this. Fortunately the document is highly readable and well worth the effort.

Here are some Workers Association leaflets already in the Archive. The analysis in the Militant document provides a fascinating overview of its own position in regard to Northern Ireland at this point in time. It also perhaps explains later perceptions of B&ICO.

By the way, I can’t recall who, if anyone, sent this to the Archive. Drop me a line and I’ll credit you.

There’s also a text version of this available here, but perhaps the printed version of a document gives a better sense of both itself and the time.

Comments»

1. John Dennis - December 13, 2010

what a work of fantasy.

The call for a trade union defence force, to take on the evils of the IRA and UDA/UVF once the British Army pulls out, just about sums up the grip on reality that the Trots had back then.

Not that much has changed I suppose.

I only wish they had pushed for this defence force idea. It would have been so funny to have seen Peter Hadden strolling down the Falls and Shankill telling all and sundry that there was a new sheriff in town.

Like

WorldbyStorm - December 13, 2010

There may well be truth in what you say about Trotskyist groups, and yet it doesn’t seem to me from a fairly neutral position that many of the other players had anywhere near a grip on reality either.

Cosying up to the Unionists doesn’t seem to me to be much of a policy either, and whatever else about Militant at least it recognised just how appalling Unionist rule had been.

Like

John Dennis - December 15, 2010

“whatever else about Militant at least it recognised just how appalling Unionist rule had been.”

As had the British government when it abolished Stormont in 1973, a year before Hadden’s take on Unionist rule.

no, it’s the call for the trade union membership of Northern Ireland to take up arms against the IRA, UDA, UVF, and RUC that marks Militant out as particularly loola.

The trade union membership of Northern Ireland ignored Militant, and with pamphlets like the one above, you can hardly blame them.

All Militant could muster up thirty years ago were trainspotter spats which the rest of the working class couldn’t give a monkeys about.

plus ca change…

Like

Jolly Red Giant - December 15, 2010

And here your lack of knowledge of the actual events in the North in the early 1970’s is demonstrated. Trade union and community based defence forces did exist (particularly outside Belfast and Derry) in a effort to defend communities against sectarian attack. They varied in size and composition but the primary reason for their demise was 1. the failure of the trade union leadership to actively support their establishment and maintenance and 2. (to a lesser degree) the active efforts of (primarily republican) paramilitaries to either dismantle them or take them over.

The position of the MIlitant was not, as you say, to ‘take up arms against the IRA, UDA, UVF and RUC’ but to call for the organisation on a democratic basis of community defence groups based on the trade union movement and/or community organisations. These groups would have been only for the defence of communities and workplaces for sectarian attack and, as I already said, they did exist right throughout the North in the early period of the Troubles after the arrival of British troops onto the streets.

Like

WorldbyStorm - December 15, 2010

Jolly Red Giant I’d be very interested in any third party (histories, etc) references to these trade union defence forces. I’ve a fairly good handle on the history of the period and they figure not at all.

It’s also hard to square with the Militant publications of the time which were continually calling for a trade union defence force to be established, and IIRC made no mention of one already extant.

BTW, I actually think beyond that issue, the document above is a pretty coherent critique.

Like

Mark P - December 15, 2010

There was actually a document issued by a workers defence squad mentioned in a link someone posted to another thread here, WbS. I think it was for sale as part of someone’s collection.

Also, you wouldn’t see many references to extant groups of that nature in Militant documents because Militant documents pretty much all post date their brief appearance.

Like

Garibaldy - December 15, 2010

Conor McCabe provided some information about this issue at the comment below

https://cedarlounge.wordpress.com/2009/11/16/scott-millar-interview-and-more-reviews/#comment-54468

Like

2. Mark P - December 13, 2010

A very good pamphlet, which does something of a number on the truly bizarre BICO politics of the time. It would be interesting to have more BICO (or BICO front) pamphlets from this period online. Oddly enough the prolific publishers in the post-BICO camp don’t seem very keen to get much of that stuff back into print.

I’m a little amused by the pseudonym though. There can hardly have been a flimsier one than renaming Peter Hadden “Peter Hunt”.

Like

Budapestkick - December 13, 2010

Yeah. I’m also amused by the presence of a certain ‘Billy Stephens’ writing during the 80s.

Like

Starkadder - December 13, 2010

“Oddly enough the prolific publishers in the post-BICO camp don’t seem very keen to get much of that stuff back into print.”

I have seen a recent issue of “Problems of Communism” that reprinted the IPR’s articles on
the divorce referendum in the 1980s (which
were basically: thank goodness it failed, so its failure can also undermine that nasty Anglo-Irish Agreement).

Niall Meehan, who often works with the Aubane Historical Society, is working on a
book about anti-republican censorship in the
1970s. But the biggest test of Meehan’s impartiality will be whether he mentions the
fact that B&ICO, Workers’ Association, Socialists Against Nationalism, etc. all strongly backed anti-IRA measures in this period, including support for Section 31. (If you don’t believe me, look up the letters pages of the Irish Independent and Irish Times during this period).

Like

Jolly Red Giant - December 16, 2010

Hadden was subjected to threats from paramilitaries at the time of writing this pamphlet – hence the pseudonym. He also used the name ‘Harry Peters’ in other articles (it pops up quite alot in internal militant documents from the period).

Like

3. acknefton - December 13, 2010

Anyone hear the rumour that the ex BICO comrades have split very recently?

Like

WorldbyStorm - December 14, 2010

No, tell us more.

Like

Starkadder - December 14, 2010

I haven’t heard this rumour, but I have noticed no sign of the “Irish Political Review” since early November-the Cork City Library didn’t have any copy when I checked last week.

There was another group publishing material
called the Howth Free Press, that had some of
the IRP people like Philip O’Connor working with them. They published John Minahane’s
book on “The Christian Druids” and also distributed the Coolacrease book.

Like

RepublicanSocialist1798 - December 14, 2010

Who cares to be honest what happens to them.

Like

4. Jim Monaghan - December 14, 2010

I happen to know Neill Meehan. That Aubane publishes his stuff is accidental.Getting anything pro republican published is still a chore. He is a former member of Peoples Democracy and indeed campaigned against Section 31 at the time.
His views would be close to those of current SF.(about which we would politely disagree)
He campaigned for divorce and contraception as well as abortion rights in the day.
Am I getting you mixed up, Strakadder.

Like

Starkadder - December 14, 2010

“Getting anything pro republican published is still a chore.”

There’s Parnell Publications (which published
a bio of republicans Sheena Campbell and Michael Gaughan), Socialist Democracy’s pamphlet series, and the Ireland Institute published a book defending the 1916 Rising last year. Quite a few other outlets for an Irish historian to publish history from a republican position.

I was simply wondering if Meehan was going to
discuss the role of the AHS’ ancestor groups in
anti-republican activities in the 1970s. This
activity was certainly not negligible, as readers of Ian S. Wood, Geoffrey Bell, or Sean Swan will recognise.

Like

5. Terry McDemott - December 14, 2010

‘That Aubane publishes his stuff is accidental.’
That happen much Jim, people getting stuff published accidentially?
‘Getting anything pro republican published is still a chore.’
I would have thought An Phoblacht might help there.

Like

6. Framer - December 14, 2010

You have to remember at that time the Communist Party (CPNI), in the absence of the Labour Party, controlled the NI trade unions politically. They were determined to advance Irish nationalism – as a form of anti-imperialism. This meant the Protestant working class had no progressive leadership.

The CPNI after its war efforts (from 1941) had become seriously popular amongst Protestants in Belfast. Unfortunately those recruited then switched (once the CPNI returned to anti-British imperialism alone) to discreet nationalism.

Its major efforts were then to ensure Labour got no look-in and the potential for progressive politics died in the aftermath of the civil rights movement’s collapse once the People’s Democracy insisted on marching through Protestant areas.

Oddly, marching where you want is no longer a civil right espoused by nationalists.

Like

7. Jim Monaghan - December 15, 2010

I meant mainstream publishers.The consensus down her was and is fairly anti-republican. I await Neils book but is it not a premature to condemn the book for faults when it is still unpublished and inndeed suggest he is tailoring it for the publisher.
And we get the poor misunderstood bigots.
I await the tale of the misunderstood B-Special, ignored by the CPNI and mistreated by Peoples Democracy who I heard damaged his truncheon with their heads

Like

8. Terry McDemott - December 15, 2010

Framer appears to have the original BICO line. Have not caught up with Clifford and Lane yet Framer?

Like

9. T - December 15, 2010

I’m not sure where this comment will end up in the thread but this is in response to World By Storm above looking for information on ‘worker’s defence units’ – there were cross-community peace groups some of which seemed to have patrolled potential flash points and which involved both TU and clerical elements and which are detailed in History Ireland magazine July/August 2009 (page 40 – article by Liam Kelly). This featured in August 1969 a time which at least in regard to involvement of armed paramilitary groups was a different ball game than the 1970s. I do not know if this is the sort of thing Militant would have been referring to. I think there was also some co-operation along these lines in the shipyards with a view to minimising conflict. This was obviously a good deal different from some sort of TU paramilitary group which is how people sometimes interpret the Militant proposal and as I say I’m not at all privy to exactly what Militant were advocating. There was also a Catholic Ex-Servicemen’s Association which perhaps fell into a similar category as a defence force except obviously organised on a communal rather than cross-community line. It should be borne in mind that if one goes back 30 or 40 or 50 years very broadly left forces were much relativly stronger in Belfast than they would be after the impact of the Troubles.

Like

Ser - December 15, 2010

Militant’s proposals were for a ‘citizen army’ type force. This is how it was referenced in the newspaper Militant in the 1970s.

Like

Budapestkick - December 15, 2010

T is closer to the truth than the smug sectarian spewings by John Dennis above. The example of the dockyard workers ensuring the safety of their Catholic co-workers is something we would point to.

Again, it is incredible how people who justify sectarian murders by the IRA sneer at the very idea of working-class people defending themselves from sectarian attacks.

Like

John Dennis - December 15, 2010

Where did I justify sectarian killings?

Like

WorldbyStorm - December 15, 2010

Hi T… you’re absolutely right, there were those groups, though my sense of CESA was that a fair few of them joined the IRA subsequently, though I’m open to correction on that. Later, around the mid-1970s the trade unions were fairly active in non-sectarian efforts, but these certainly weren’t anything like a disciplined cadre or formation.

But I don’t think any of those are the groups referenced above.

As far as I understand the Militant proposal was made as late as 1990/1 [certainly, just reading Garibaldy’s link that seems to be what Conor quotes], though whether to call it a paramilitary force might be stretching it though I think it was meant to be capable of defensive operations. [Edit, sorry, I see now I misread that. Conor makes it clear it was designed to ‘go on the offensive’.]

And by the way, I’m not denying at all that there were groups – one need only look at Peoples’ Democracy to see that they appear to have had for a period some sort of ‘Group B’ (to put it tactfully) – that the histories haven’t yet referenced, just this one seems a little nebulous.

I’m still curious though as to any references of actual Militant linked groups. Again, reading documents such as the above, which is where one would expect it to be publicised – after all this was proposed as a defensive force which workers would see as their own, but in all the references I can find (and again I’m absolutely open to correction) it’s simply not mentioned as an actuality, but as a possibility.

That makes me very dubious about the likelihood of any such organisation having anything other than a paper existence.

Like

Mark P - December 15, 2010

There were no “Militant linked groups”.

Militant were referring to something which had happened briefly and partially at the start of the troubles (before Militant even really existed) and then rapidly faded away or been coopted into sectarian paramilitarism and proposing something similar for the future. Particularly in a context where they were advocating British withdrawal, but all too aware of the possibility that this would result in a slide into sectarian civil war.

They were not advocating that a small socialist group should itself set up a tiny private army. The point was that (unlike left republicans who prefer to imagine the Protestants out of existence) they were trying to come up with a way to both oppose the British presence and avoid an all-out sectarian conflagration. And their suggestion was that the organised workers movement should take the lead.

Like

WorldbyStorm - December 15, 2010

Well, that’s pretty much what my own understanding was from the off, that Militant had no groups linked to it, and that JRG’s reading of the situation might not be entirely accurate.

But, the later doc from the early 1990s does seem to put a different complexion on what was ultimately being advocated. The direct quote from the Militant doc is as follows:

• The building by the trade unions of an anti-sectarian workers’ defence force by linking these bodies together to protect the working class from attack. This would be used to go on the offensive in order to eliminate the scourge of sectarian attacks and killings for good.”

Like

Mark P - December 15, 2010

JRG never said that Militant had armed groups linked to it, as far as I can see.

He said that the kind of groups Militant advocated briefly appeared at the start of the Troubles, which is undoubtedly true. Militant was not inventing the concept but advocating something which had happened before but on a firmer political and organisational basis.

I’m always entertained when I see Left Republican types sneer at people raising the idea of a workers defence organisation during the Troubles. It’s just one more aspect of their inability to deal with the irritating existence of a million Protestants and the likelihood that a republican “victory” would result in massive sectarian fighting.

Like

Garibaldy - December 15, 2010

It seems to be unclear what exactly is being talked about here. Certainly there were all sorts of vigilante groups operating during the early Troubles, be they Defence Associations or Citizens’ Defence Committees, or on a more ad hoc basis. They had trade union and clerical involvement, and were community based. And we know how a lot of both of them ended up. Is it them (presumably not) or another type of organisation that is being talked about.

“The position of the MIlitant was not, as you say, to ‘take up arms against the IRA, UDA, UVF and RUC’ but to call for the organisation on a democratic basis of community defence groups based on the trade union movement and/or community organisations. These groups would have been only for the defence of communities and workplaces for sectarian attack and, as I already said, they did exist right throughout the North in the early period of the Troubles after the arrival of British troops onto the streets.”

If we’re not talking about the vigilante groups or CDCs and Defence Associations that figure in the literature already, then it would be helpful to have examples of what we are talking about so things would be clearer. The fact that confusion seems to reign over what is being talked about might suggest that a significant aspect of post-Bombay Street life has just been forgotten about and written out (except by Militant); or it might suggest that they weren’t as ubiquitous as is being suggested; or perhaps that organisations that are most often characterised in other ways are interpreted differently by Militant. If we knew exactly what was being referred to, even with places and names of the organisations and dates, then perhaps some of the people involved could be asked. Plenty must still be kicking about.

Like

WorldbyStorm - December 15, 2010

Actually JRG suggested that ‘trade union and community based defense forces did exist’. And his later comment about the position of Militant appeared to elide these two – at least conceptually in that he suggested that these were what Militant called for. Granted he didn’t mention armed groups, that was ‘T’s’ point and it was me who positioned that in the very early 1990s.

However, as of yet we have seen no firm evidence of groups that can be considered to fit the definition ‘[that] Militant advocated’. At best we see some ad hoc groups in some places and some TU/clerical groups which seem to have had a rather different and entirely non-political function. I don’t think CESA counts in quite that way either given that it was – as far as can be ascertained – essentially communitarian.

The other obvious point is that at no time in the Militant documentation that I’ve read (and as ever I’m open to correction on this) did they make any mention of these previous efforts which are apparently regarded as trailblazing a concept, so it’s odd to see them now seized upon as if they have some significance, when those closer both to original context both geographically and in temporal terms saw no reason to mention them.

Re your second point, I’m not sure what left Republicans are sneering at anything here, bar arguably John Dennis. I haven’t made any attack on the SP or Militant at any point, quite the opposite. I’ve actually said that I largely agree with Hadden’s critique in the document above. Nor has Garibaldy, nor T (though I have no idea what his/her politics are).

And I’m entirely puzzled why John Dennis’s words on a single thread which is has a fair few number of left Republicans contributing to it, not one of whom has agreed with them, could be expanded into a catch-all condemnation of all left Republicans and their apparent inability to deal with the existence of Protestants in the North (though as a left Republican with a partially Protestant heritage myself I’m always more comfortable with the term Unionist not least because it encapsulates at least some of the socio-political and class features of that particular community), none of whom have echoed his viewpoint.

All that’s been expressed here is a request for clarifications of the history.

Like

Mark P - December 15, 2010

I think that the format of discussion here is causing some misunderstandings. JRG was making two separate points – both correct in so far as they go – not one extended point. Similarly, my remarks about sneering Left Republicans were intended as a separate point to my reply to you, rather than a jibe at you.

Just to be clear, Militant did indeed occasionally mention the prior brief existence of non-sectarian workers defence organisations in some of their material in the 1970s and 1980s. Usually in response to Left Republicans sneering that such a thing was impossible, while conveniently pushing their own rather less likely schema involving a million Protestants quietly coming to terms with being bombed into a united Ireland.

And actually, I think it’s useful to use the terms “Protestants” and “Catholics” from time to time, rather than the euphemistic “Nationalist” and “Unionist”. Sectarianism is about more than opinions on the border. When you hear a Unionist politician spouting on about “Nationalists” or a Nationalist one spouting on about “Unionists”, it’s sometimes worth remininding yourself that they mean “Catholics” or “Protestants”. The euphemism is particularly obvious when used with the term “Community” appended as a self-description. The “Nationalist Community” is Sinn Fein’s way of saying “us Catholics” not them’uns.

Like

WorldbyStorm - December 16, 2010

Let’s be clear. On this thread we were told initially that ‘trade union and community based defense forces’ existed ‘particularly outside Belfast and Derry’. The evidence for the former? None at all has been provided after numerous requests (the closest is T’s reference which clearly aren’t ‘forces’ in the terms of the Militant or JRG definition). The latter? Well, T at least points to CESA, which as has also been noted seems to have largely folded into communitarian ‘defense forces’ like the IRA.

In the original comment by JRG (and I don’t want to personalise this against him, but it was the starting point for this) he directly linked the failure of these first entirely notional groups to two dynamics, one the failure of the trade unions to support their establishment and maintenance and efforts of republicans to shut them down.

Given that we have no evidence of these forces, both those contentions appear to be utterly incorrect.

His second point re the Militant stance seems incorrect in light of the 1991 document that called for an offensive force.

Re the second point, did Militant indeed? If I go to the most useful Militant site online and read http://www.oocities.com/socialistparty/Archive/1970May.htm Trade Union’s: Mobilise Workers Against Sectarianism from 1970 itself I see no evidence at all of references to such groups, despite that being written at the very time one would imagine reference would be made.
Indeed the only mention made is the following:

As a beginning the formation through the trade unions of joint defence forces of Protestant and Catholic workers is the only way to repulse the hooligan and sectarian attacks of the UVF and the other forces of reaction. It would then also be possible to appeal to the workers in uniform in the British army on a class programme. Their interests are at one with ours. Many have been forced into the army because of the same conditions which affect the Northern Ireland workers, unemployment, slum housing, low wages, etc. Moreover, class differences are more stark in the army. The ordinary soldier has begun to see this by demanding the right to form trade unions.

The closest to a force was reference to shop stewards, courageously calling a mass meeting in Harland in Wolff in August 1969 to calm things down. Not the same thing by any stretch.

Now, if other forces existed at that point that Militant thought were significant, surely they would rate passing mention.

Indeed every time I key in ‘workers defense’, the formulation used in the document in the Archive above by Militant into that archive I still see no contemporaneous mention of same existing at that point.

This isn’t merely academic. You’ve made an attack, entirely out of the blue given the context of the thread – not on me, and I didn’t take it that way, but on left Republicans for their assumed failings. Why do it? Why mention sneering when none was or has taken place? Difficult to conclude other than it was purely for effect.

Nor is the following entirely academic. JRG has constructed a history where trade union defence forces were suppressed ‘primarily’ by Republican groups. This seems a dubious proposition in the extreme. But its contemporary cachet would of course have currency amongst some.

As for Protestants and Unionists, well the whole point of Unionism is not so much about ‘opinions on the border’, but about a socio-political and cultural relationship with the UK. It’s precisely because that is such a complex thing that reductionism about ‘Protestants’ is broadly speaking without traction. But more obviously, given that you enclosed the reference within an attack on left Republicanism which has almost always attempted in various incarnations to shift directly away from sectarianism and towards more class based politics it is entirely inapposite in the context of the discussion.

Like

Mark P - December 16, 2010

What an odd contribution, WbS.

1) The whole thread actually starts with standard issue Left Republican sneering about the very concept of workers defending themselves in an organised way. And it’s exactly the sort of stupidity I regularly see from Left Republicans, including in discussions here.

It’s one of the issues which comes up every time a Left Republican starts babbling about Militant, along with a short list of other talking points. I can recite each of them if you’d like.

On this particular issue, the central disagreement originates in (a) the standard Left Republican view that you can’t have any kind of real unity with working class Prods until a United Ireland comes because they are a bunch of Afrikaners (see Jim Monaghan’s contribution below). And (b) once the Brits withdraw these abhorent Afrikaners will somehow see the error of their ways and a sectarian civil war will not ensue.

The Protestant working class plays no significant role in their thinking apart from occasional meaningless ritual nods towards “uniting Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter”. They are presented as puppets of the British, who will fall into line once their masters are beaten. This failure to see that sectarian division has a life of its own way beyond the desires of the British (who undoubtedly fostered it in the first place), means that they excuse themselves from having to think about the consequences of a serious attempt to force a million unwilling Protestants into a united Ireland – not timid acquiescence, but escalating sectarian violence and a slide towards sectarian civil war.

In other words they see neither the need for cross community defence (because in the future the Prods will just fall into line without Brit backing), nor the possibility (because right now the Prods are Afrikaners).

2) Less than 1% of Militant’s material from the 1970s and 1980s is online.

3) There was an actual document from a short lived workers defence group discussed on this very site some time ago, when someone posted up a link to a collection of left documents which was up for sale.

More generally, the start of the troubles saw the creation of a whole range of defence groups, ranging from sectarian ones, to ones under varying degrees of trade union, clerical, republican, ex-servicemens etc influence. Eventually these tended to be replaced by or subsumed into more or less Nationalist and (to a lesser extent) Unionist ones before disappearing altogether.

I hadn’t realised that this was at all controversial in this discussion, except around secondary issues like JRG’s implication that trade union led efforts were very widespread (that was not my understanding of the situation) or you getting the wrong end of the stick about these being Militant influenced groups (a bit hard before Militant even existed).

Like

John Dennis - December 16, 2010

So pointing out the Beano and Dandy analysis of Militant makes you a ‘left republican’ and an apologist for sectarianism and murder?

I am amazed that you can read so much into my comments. Militant’s call for an armed trade union defence force was ridiculed at the time. Nobody took it, or Militant, seriously. And for a very good reason. It is completely stupid.

At one point or another, the Militant armed trade union defence force would have to protect Catholic and Protestant areas from the likes of the IRA, INLA, UVE and UDA, as well as protect RUC and RUC reservists from IRA active service units.

It would have placed ordinary trade union members in opposition to the combatants.

How does pointing that out make me a left republican or an apologist for murder?

Like

Jolly Red Giant - December 16, 2010

Mark has outlined in a comprehensive fashion the position of the Militant during this period. I would like to clarify a couple of points.

1. The term ‘trade union defence forces’ do not equate to armed paramilitary groups – it applies specifically to the establishment of democratic community and trade union groups who acted in the cross-community defence of areas and workplaces from threatened sectarian attack. The best example is the one quoted of the workers in the shipyards organising to prevent sectarian attacks against Catholic workers in the shipyards. This is not to say that, if necessary, these groups should not be armed – but that the primary factor was that these groups should under the direct democratic control of communities and/or workplace.

2. The later reference to these groups needing to go on the ‘offensive’ – this spectifically means a ‘political offensive’ against the paramilitaries, not an ‘armed offensive’.

3. In the aftermath of the arrival of the British troops in North the troops patrolled areas of Belfast and Derry and no where else. It was inevitable that local groups would spring up all over the North to counter-act the paramilitaries (loyalist in the main). Some involved significant groups of people – others no more than a handful. Many were directly under the control of Republicans (these is the main were not ‘cross-community’) others were outside their control. I have seen references to several dozen of these groups (I will have to root through my records to find the exact references and I do not have the time now). If I remember correctly there was a signifcant group in Andersonstown that started initially outside of republican control and existed for a short period. Much of the information was passed to me from a hadnful of people who were involved in these groups and subsequently joined the Militant. You will find very lettle record of these groups as it is not something the establishment, republicans or loyalists have an interest in promoting.

4. I never stated that these groups “were suppressed ‘primarily’ by Republican groups” as WbS has claimed. I stated that the primary reason for their demise was the failure of the trade unions to actively support them (and in some cases it appears they actively undermined them). Republican paramilitaries did in some areas take them over (again Andersonstown was one if I recall correctly).

5. The Militant has consistantly stressed the fact that the Catholic community were subjected to discrimination in the North. However, the Militant has also consistantly argued that this discrimination could never be eliminated through promoting republicanism or on the basis of capitalism. This then poses the question of how you eliminate the presence of imperialism and capitalism on this island – something the Militant and the SP has consistantly argued is only possible on the basis of worker unity.

Like

John Dennis - December 16, 2010

JRG, the pamphlet is from 1974, not 1969.

The criticism of Militant’s trade union defence force at the time (1970s) usually focused on the very simple fact that any such force that was set up to protect local communities would have to face down the paramilitaries at some point.

Who was going to do this facing down?

Were unarmed trade union defence force volunteers supposed to stop and search cars to prevent the UFF from killing Catholic workers, or the IRA from planting bombs in shopping centres? All this in light of a British army withdrawal from Northern Ireland?

It was a stupid idea, and was treated as such by the vast majority of trade unionists who, after all, would be putting themselves up as legitimate targets at the height of a vicious armed conflict.

Like

Garibaldy - December 16, 2010

It seems we are getting to the nub of the issue now, which is the characterisation of the numerous groups that sprang up for local defence/to keep order in local areas in the period after Bombay Street. These are usually referred to as vigilante groups, but it seems that they are being subsumed under the rubric of trade union and community defence groups by statements such as the one I quote earlier, and am quoting again for the sake of clarity.

“The position of the MIlitant was not, as you say, to ‘take up arms against the IRA, UDA, UVF and RUC’ but to call for the organisation on a democratic basis of community defence groups based on the trade union movement and/or community organisations. These groups would have been only for the defence of communities and workplaces for sectarian attack and, as I already said, they did exist right throughout the North in the early period of the Troubles after the arrival of British troops onto the streets.”

It seems to be a question of whether you think it is reasonable to describe these groups as trade union/community defence organisations. And it seems that there Militant has been out of step with how most people have seen, and continue to see them.

As it happens, I used to know someone (now deceased) who was involved in this type of thing in Andersonstown at the time JRG is talking about. He, and the other people involved that he was talking about, were not political, and seem to have organised themselves as the able-bodied men in the area (that is not to claim that everyone involved was apolitical). He used the words vigilante duty to describe it. His perception of it as vigilante duty would seem to be how most people saw it at the time, if we can judge by the media coverage and people’s description of it at the time. There is plenty of reference to these vigilante groups having existed, both at the time and after as far as I can see.

By the by, if the section from the early 1990s is intended to mean a political offensive, that seems far from clear on reading it.

Like

WorldbyStorm - December 16, 2010

1. The term ‘trade union defence forces’ do not equate to armed paramilitary groups – it applies specifically to the establishment of democratic community and trade union groups who acted in the cross-community defence of areas and workplaces from threatened sectarian attack. The best example is the one quoted of the workers in the shipyards organising to prevent sectarian attacks against Catholic workers in the shipyards. This is not to say that, if necessary, these groups should not be armed – but that the primary factor was that these groups should under the direct democratic control of communities and/or workplace.

Thanks for responding JRG. Even taking this more limited definition of TUDF’s Liam Kelly’s article in the History Ireland certainly doesn’t indicate that the events in the shipyards constituted anything like ‘trade union defence forces’. There was a meeting `at Harland & Wolff where a resolution was passed ‘expressing the workers’ determination to maintain the peace’. Nothing more, certainly no organised unit.
In the Mallusk, Michelin plant instance Kelly mentions an ad hoc group, but what that group did, if anything else, is not mentioned. Implicit in the text it seems to have been another resolution that no trouble would occur.
2. The later reference to these groups needing to go on the ‘offensive’ – this spectifically means a ‘political offensive’ against the paramilitaries, not an ‘armed offensive’.
The quote from 1991 is also very clear. It uses the word ‘offensive’ with no qualification. You are now adding a suffix in order to change the interpretation. The very title ‘trade union defence force’ is suggestive but what on earth does it all mean?

3. In the aftermath of the arrival of the British troops in North the troops patrolled areas of Belfast and Derry and no where else. It was inevitable that local groups would spring up all over the North to counter-act the paramilitaries (loyalist in the main). Some involved significant groups of people – others no more than a handful. Many were directly under the control of Republicans (these is the main were not ‘cross-community’) others were outside their control. I have seen references to several dozen of these groups (I will have to root through my records to find the exact references and I do not have the time now). If I remember correctly there was a signifcant group in Andersonstown that started initially outside of republican control and existed for a short period. Much of the information was passed to me from a hadnful of people who were involved in these groups and subsequently joined the Militant. You will find very lettle record of these groups as it is not something the establishment, republicans or loyalists have an interest in promoting.
The history of CESA etc is well-rehearsed at this stage, but none of those groups appear to have had any trade union involvement and bar some of the peace groups mentioned in Kelly’s article (which appear to have had effectively clerical involvement) most seem to have been essentially communitarian, ie. aligning with one community or another. If you can shed further light on this that would be great, but the obvious conclusion is that no TU inspired groups existed, that the peace groups could hardly be termed class based and that what groups there were vanished fairly sharpish.
As for the point about the establishment, well, yes and no. But good historians don’t cleave to establishment views and there’s been such a broad range of analysis from people far beyond the categories of republican or loyalist that I’d be very cautious about arguing such a point.
4. I never stated that these groups “were suppressed ‘primarily’ by Republican groups” as WbS has claimed. I stated that the primary reason for their demise was the failure of the trade unions to actively support them (and in some cases it appears they actively undermined them). Republican paramilitaries did in some areas take them over (again Andersonstown was one if I recall correctly).

You said precisely: the active efforts of (primarily republican) paramilitaries to either dismantle them or take them over.
Hard not to take away from that that there was some form of suppression. The word ‘dismantle’ in particular. As for their demise being due to the failure of trade unions to actively support them, well perhaps. I don’t know. To date I haven’t given any opinion on these groups – such as they are – one way or another but one could hazard that given the balance of forces and history in the society cross community initiatives amongst the working class were always going to find it challenging. John Dennis though has a point, any trade union defence force in reality would have to face down paramilitaries of either hue because the latter would inevitably seek to impose their will on such ‘forces’. It would certainly need some defensive aspect and it’s impossible to conceive of that without the danger of further violence. In the sectarian tinderbox of the North such a notion seems unfeasible. Given some of what happened to the much more emollient ‘Peace People’ in the latter part of the 1970s where despite a completely unarmed approach they came under huge pressure and antagonism JD may have a point about the huge dangers to union members if they engaged in such activities. It may also overstate the influence of the unions. To their credit they argued for worker unity but that call wasn’t exactly taken up with gusto much of the time.
There’s a further point, even what limited cooperation there was between communities didn’t work in some very important places. Kelly in History Ireland makes the point that i most notably in Clonard on 15 August, just before that very evening Bombay Street was burned down there was a meeting of Protestant and Catholics in a Peace Committee.
5. The Militant has consistantly stressed the fact that the Catholic community were subjected to discrimination in the North. However, the Militant has also consistantly argued that this discrimination could never be eliminated through promoting republicanism or on the basis of capitalism. This then poses the question of how you eliminate the presence of imperialism and capitalism on this island – something the Militant and the SP has consistantly argued is only possible on the basis of worker unity.

As I stated before, I have no argument at all with Militant’s stance on these issues. In many respects much of what they argued was sane, though arguably over optimistic in terms of what they appeared to believe achievable. In relation to their view of Republicanism, again, that’s fine, I differ on that in some respects but the Militant and later SP view has been coherent and consistent.

But what is important is to examine what actually happened at any given point rather than what we might hope happened. To argue that at best, if they existed at all, tiny manifestations of workers unity (the closest of which appear to be say H&W and Michelin and these were restricted to very specific workplaces – hugely admirable but utterly limited), are indicative of anything very much at all is to fall into the trap of pitting hope over actuality.
Republican or socialist, or both, that’s not useful.

Like

WorldbyStorm - December 16, 2010

Mark P. Odd? How so? You offer a long comment, but never provide an answer as to how my previous contribution was ‘odd’.

The original piece, to repeat myself, had one contribution from one individual, whose political provenance is unknown, though later comments don’t seem to particularly indicate any particular ‘left Republican’ analysis, but some reasonable points. But from that you generate a tapestry of the ‘stupidity’ of left Republicans.

I’m a left Republican, so is Garibaldy, so are a number of contributors and commentators to this site, and the palpable lack of respect for our politics from your quarter, despite the respectful hearing and place we give to your political current and indeed yourself is dispiriting in the extreme.

There is no central disagreement. Neither Garibaldy nor myself have offered any opinion on unity with working class Protestants whatsoever (though clue, we think it’s a good thing), and it’s completely diversionary to suggest we have. You’re now roping in comments (ie those of Jim M) entirely external to the central discussion, those being focussed on the comments Jolly Red Giant made about ‘trade union and community based defense forces’

Some of us, with a degree of knowledge of this history were understandably intrigued by same and sought clarification given that our understanding was that no such forces existed or existed in such sketchy form as to be an irrelevancy.

All the rest of your analysis about working class Protestants and/or Unionists is entirely irrelevant to that point.

As for the 2% of material online, that too is rather irrelevant, I can go to the Left Archive and pull down, well, the two copies of Militant from 1972, also very close in to the genesis of the conflict, and see that there’s no mention there either of these ‘forces’. Quite the opposite, in a piece on the NILP and its failings in 1969 once more there’s no mention at all of such forces – in the main article the most that is conceded is that the working class was prepared to work together or some such.

In Militant Irish Special No1 from 1972 there’s a heading about ‘Joint Committees’ but when one reads the text it’s clear they’re not discussing any sort of TU forces but instead are talking about the groups which struck up ie small ‘peace groups’ and CESA like formations, neither of which come under the original definition offered by JRG and in any case simply don’t fit the bill as being exclusively cross working class/trade union.

Again, far from the contentions orginally made.

I’d be interested if you could point to the link to this workers defence group leaflet. I’ve done a bit of digging for this thread so given your reference to it it would be useful to see.

More generally, nothing. There’s simply no evidence for what you suggest about defence groups. The closest that I can see are meetings in two workplaces H&W and the Michelin factory in Mallusk, both referenced in Liam Kelly’s History Ireland piece in July/August 2009 which once more are simply not the same thing.

In other words the historical analysis JRG presented and which you have sort of kind of defended is unsustainable by the facts presented so far.

Now all that would be fine, it’s a fairly minor issue, but the hostility displayed to ‘left Republicans’ is well over the top.

Like

Jolly Red Giant - December 16, 2010

A couple of points –

1. John – yes the pamphlet was written in 1974. You claimed that the establishment of community and/or trade union groups to defend communities and workplaces from attack was not a realistic suggestion. I pointed out that it was something that did happen in the early stages of the Troubles.

2. Garibaldy – I never suggested that all of the groups that sprang up in different parts of the North were ‘trade union defence groups’ – they were of a wide variety and character. Republicans organised groups to defend Catholic areas – but in a whole host of areas cross-community groups and workplace groups were established, some ‘vigilante’ in character, some with a local trade union base, some with a local community base, many organised by local meetings.

3. WbS – In relation to ‘going on the offensive’ – in all honesty – think back on the forty year history of the Militant/SP and tell me if there was ever a single occasion where the Militant argued that the paramilitaries whould be taken on at their own game? You give a one line quote from a document (stating which document would be a help) – but either way, I am pretty sure that the main argument of the document would have been how to politically defeat imperialism, capitalism and sectarianism.

As regards this ‘(primarliy) Republican’ comment – I was referring to the fact that many groups were taken over or dismantled by paramilitaries – some by loyalists (who mainly ‘dismantled’) but ‘primarily’ Republican (who mainly ‘took over’).

Over the past forty years the trade union movement has been noticable for its failure to engage in any activity that could be described as ‘political’ and if you know anything about the Militant you will know that it has consistantly argued that it was vital that the trade unions became politically active.

As for any trade union defence group ‘facing down the paramilitaries’ – this again has happened on numerous occasions. Over the 35 years of the Troubles workers regularly had to engage in strike action against threats, intimidation and violence from paramilitaries (from both sides of the sectarian divide). Indeed it was the ‘facing down’ of the paramilitaries on many occasions that prevented a major escalation of the conflict.

Final point – in order for such a ‘trade union defence force’ to be successful it would require the mass mobilisation of working class people from both communities through demonstrations, meetings, rallies etc to organise such bodies – they would not and could not operate in isolation from the movement as a whole. One of the primary reasons for support for the paramilitaries on both sides is their claim to ‘defend their communities’ from attack. If the trade union movement could demonstrate that it could defend all communities on a cross-community basis then one of the main planks of support for the paramilitaries would vanish overnight.

This is not to say that the paramilitaries would disappear – but they would be isolated within the Catholic and Protestant communities and their actions would be far easier to combat than they are now.

The history of the North is rich with examples of working class people from both communities coming together to protect and defend their class interests. There are ample examples of workers from both sides of the community engaging in strike action and defeating attempts to split them along sectarian lines. The bigots expend every ounce of energy to derail this unity becauses it poses a direct threat to their power and position and by extention to capitalism and imperialism. The key to building such unity in the North is the development of a strong vibrant and democratic left-wing trade union movement capable of engaging in political activity on a class basis and not being afraid of taking on the established sectarian forces on both sides.

Like

Garibaldy - December 17, 2010

“2. Garibaldy – I never suggested that all of the groups that sprang up in different parts of the North were ‘trade union defence groups’ – they were of a wide variety and character. Republicans organised groups to defend Catholic areas – but in a whole host of areas cross-community groups and workplace groups were established, some ‘vigilante’ in character, some with a local trade union base, some with a local community base, many organised by local meetings.”

I hadn’t meant to suggest that you had characterised all these groups in this way. It seemed fairly clear that you were excluding certain types by the definition that was given. I’m also not sure that I used the phrase “trade union defence groups”, which you put in quotation marks, in the comment you are responding to.

There is a claim being made that in “a whole host of areas cross-community groups and workplace groups were established”. WBS has already, drawing on an article described as giving possible examples, offered evidence to question the interpretation of a specific instance given here, at H&W, while I have offered some reasons that the reference to a group in Andersonstown might be open to a different interpretation (the only specific instances given as far as I can see, although Mark P has referred to having seen reference to another specific instance).

At this point it is kind of hard to see how we can judge the character of these groups being referred to unless we have specific details. If these groups were widespread, then their disappearance from the record would indeed be a mystery, especially given the renewed interest in this period because of the recent anniversaries, never mind the tendency of people recently to offer their personal histories. Given that there isn’t much concrete evidence coming forward for these types of groups being widespread, it’s no surprise that people are sceptical, especially when we have so much evidence for the vigilante groups, CESA, CDCs etc.

Like

WorldbyStorm - December 17, 2010

3. WbS – In relation to ‘going on the offensive’ – in all honesty – think back on the forty year history of the Militant/SP and tell me if there was ever a single occasion where the Militant argued that the paramilitaries whould be taken on at their own game? You give a one line quote from a document (stating which document would be a help) – but either way, I am pretty sure that the main argument of the document would have been how to politically defeat imperialism, capitalism and sectarianism.
As regards this ‘(primarliy) Republican’ comment – I was referring to the fact that many groups were taken over or dismantled by paramilitaries – some by loyalists (who mainly ‘dismantled’) but ‘primarily’ Republican (who mainly ‘took over’).
Over the past forty years the trade union movement has been noticable for its failure to engage in any activity that could be described as ‘political’ and if you know anything about the Militant you will know that it has consistantly argued that it was vital that the trade unions became politically active.

I agree to an extent, and yet, and yet. What is a little concerning – not a lot, let’s not overstate this, is that the term ‘going on the offensive’ was used with no qualification, and this in relation to Northern Ireland. Conor gives details on the document in the link above. And John Dennis is correct, the very concept of trade union forces is problematic in terms of implementation.

That you have to – understandably – qualify the sentence re dismantling etc, sort of demonstrates my earlier point about how tricky all this is. But remember, you originally didn’t make any qualification between loyalists and republicans and it’s only at this point that you do.
This leads to an obvious problem in that we can’t be expected to read statements and continually hope that they’ll be subsequently qualified to the satisfaction of reader or writer.

I wonder though are you correct that ‘facing down’ by the unions prevented a major escalation of the conflict. Again, the historical record on this seems spotty.
We also have the opposite dynamic where distorted mobilisations exacerbated it as in the aftermath of Sunningdale during the UWC, which emulated the forms of trade union and working class activity in something approaching a parody of them but which by locking successfully into that the ‘forms’ of that activity was highly effective in preventing progressive movement (which might also explain the caution of the unions subsequently, though prior to that arguably they could have tried to do more).

Like

Starkadder - December 15, 2010

“There was also a Catholic Ex-Servicemen’s Association which perhaps fell into a similar category as a defence force except obviously organised on a communal rather than cross-community line.”

On that subject, does anyone know what happened
to Phil Curran, the CESA’s leader? He was mentioned in “Fortnight” magazine around 1972 a
few times, but he seems to have vanished from
the headlines after that.

Like

10. NollaigO - December 15, 2010

December 2010 IPR has been published. You can get an online sub for IPR /Church & State here:
http://free-magazines.atholbooks.org/
Very good value.

Regarding Militants’ cloud-cuckoo land cure-all, the trade union defence force: WbS astutely notes the difference between calling for one and proclaiming that they actually existed. Here we have to cast a cold eye on Jolly Red Giant’s claims. There is a blurring with trade union /community based references.

@John Dennis:
While I no longer consider myself trotskyist,I think it is unfair to brand all Trot groups with Militant’s views on the national question. Other trotskyist groups at the time like the RMG /PD did not peddle that nonsense.

The link below is to an article which is an example of a good critique of Militant’s policies.It is from the Matgamna group. In the 1970s they were an orthodox trotskyist group, often dubbed Provo Trots.
http://www.workersliberty.org/node/6226

Like

11. Beaginis - December 15, 2010

hn

Like

WorldbyStorm - December 15, 2010

Yes, but what do you really think?

🙂

Like

12. sonofstan - December 15, 2010

Has anyone written a decent account of the history of the left in NI from partition to the end of the ’60s?

Like

13. Jim Monaghan - December 15, 2010

So we get the argument that the repression of the Catholic minority was a side issue. It had no “real” effect. That to raise it was sectarian. That it would be solved by united workingclass action across the divide.I suppose it would have been like the white workingclass revolt that brought down apartheid and the fantastic acts of solidarity by white workers in the southern USA.
Ah, yes, a parallel universe.

Like

Mark P - December 15, 2010

Jim,

Does this particularly bizarre piece of drivel have anything to do with anything said in this discussion? Or did you just see criticism of Left Republican fantasies and let your knee start jerking?

The comparison with Afrikaners in Apartheid South Africa says more about you than it does about working class Protestants by the way.

Like

WorldbyStorm - December 16, 2010

Mark P, that comes uncomfortably close to the line in terms of tone.

If you’ve a disagreement with Jim’s thoughts you could at least treat them like Budapestkick below does without getting into personalisation.

Like

Mark P - December 16, 2010

So comparing Northern Irish Protestants to racist white South Africans under apartheid is fine but responding to someome making that comparison in a hostile and dismissive way is “close to the line”?

Good to know I suppose.

Like

sonofstan - December 16, 2010

Mark’s right though: the comparison is stupid and insulting to the great mass of unionists. And it indicates why left republicanism so often remains an oxymoron.

Like

Worldbystorm - December 16, 2010

Mark, ‘hostility’ is the problem, not the content of your analysis. I need hardly point out that this site is not a place for hostility, particularly to other comrades.

Like

Budapestkick - December 15, 2010

‘So we get the argument that the repression of the Catholic minority was a side issue. It had no “real” effect. That to raise it was sectarian. ‘

Jim, nobody said that and, as you can tell from the document above, Militant and the SP certainly have not. And the comparison with black workers in the Southern U.S / Apartheid in S.A is frankly absurd. Though, there are plenty of examples of solidarity by white workers in the struggle for black civil rights. I would recommmend in particular looking at Brian Haley’s article on Mike Quill in History Ireland.

Like

Ramzi Nohra - December 16, 2010

Agree with the idea that the document linked doesnt dismiss the discrimination visited up on catholics.
However Jim’s second point is valid in that its difficult to think of many occasions when class solidarity based action has trumped entrenched ethnic/nationalist divisions.
When one is making that point its hard to draw an exact analaogy without offending people. I suppose a reference to israel/palestine could also have been made.

Thats not to deny the role that left-leaning groups such as Trade Unions have played in trying to make common cause with the oppressed of anoter community (S. African and indeed Israeli ones spring to mind). However I cant think of any “systems of oppression” that have been destroyed by this action.

Like

14. John Meehan - December 16, 2010

It seems to me that a prepared public discussion around Michael Farrell’s “Northern Ireland – the Orange State” would serve a useful purpose. It shows, amongst other things, that the strategy pursued by the radical wing of the Civil Rights Movement in the NI Orange State in the 1960’s was inspired in part by the USA civil rights protests of that decade.

The South African Apartheid government boasted that their arsenal of discrimination was much less oppressive than the Unionist Special Powrers’ Act – doubtless, someone else can supply the exact quote from the late unlamented Apartheid government minister Vorster!

Like

15. Neues aus den Archiven der radikalen (und nicht so radikalen) Linken « Entdinglichung - December 16, 2010

[…] Militant Tendency: Northern Ireland – For Workers’ Unity: A reply to the Workers’ Association Pamphlet [BICO] “… (~ […]

Like

16. Jim Monaghan - December 16, 2010

Could I point out the Quill was the leader of the New York transit union. NY is some way from the deep South.I have the bio. by his wife.
As regards parallels. Look at Paisleyism. It is frankly sectarian through and through. No amount of soft focus rubbish can disguish this. It is the major voice amongst unionists.Look at the Orange Order.
Look at the Loyalist strike/lockout. This was a successful action against a modest reform package.
When push came to shove the moderate trade union leaders were swept aside.
When both the Officials and indeed the SP looked for progressive forces amongst loyalism where did they look but at the UVF. The UVF and its political (if you can use the term political) associates were the cutting edge of loyalism.
Most of the non Republican (Citizen defence, ex-service etc.) armed groups were focussed on defence of the ghettoes.
In my opinion iof the Provos has stuck to defence activity rather than an unwinneable war things would have been much better. I also think that the mass support for the Porvos arose from theexperience of Bombay st. where many nationalists regarded them as the last/first line of defence (warts and all). I think this is reflected in hanleys book of the Officials where many Officials on teh ground in the North felt that was their role as well.
Workers unity. All for it, but not at the price of wishful thinking.Sectarianism/racism exists and has to be combatted. Excluding people from jobs/houses etc. has to be combatted. This loses you positions. Going back to Quill (New York) he fought to admit Afro-Americans to the union and against having the transit jobs being preserved for Irish and Italians. ery difficult.Could I add as a footnote that many employments are not just preserved for certain groups but are practically family owned. Getting rid of again sectarianism/racism/sexism will take time and also take an admission that these things exist and have to be fought.
Could I shock and add that at least one trade union adjusted to discrimination by keeping seperate lists of protestants and catholics for job vacancies.

Like

Mark P - December 16, 2010

Short version:

You are “all for workers unity” but, really, you can’t have unity with those dirty Afrikaners.

Like

17. Terry McDemott - December 16, 2010

Brian Kelly (Queens history lecturer) has a book on black miners in the the early 1900s American Deep South: his point is exactly that there was unity on occasion between black and white.
Vorster was making a propaganda point against British criticism of Apartheid: it’s good line but doesn’t reflect the fact that SA was much more oppressive than the 6 counties.

Like

18. Jim Monaghan - December 16, 2010

Parallels are never exact. I would indeed prefer to be a Catholic in the North to being African in South Africa.Couold I state repressive laws are there in reserve not to be used on a continous basis. There is an amazing amount of emergency powers North and South which can be activated without much delay.
But racism runs deep. For a start there was a slogan in one strike in the SAs mines in I think the 20s which was “Workers of teh world unite and keep SA white”. I think the mine owners were proposing to hire cheaper labour.
Obviously any efforts which have class unity should be supported. But one swallow does not make a Spring.
Indeed I see and hope for socialist future very much on the Martin Luther Kings speech.This would even include the descendants of bondholders, bankers, speculators. (awful attempt at humour.)

Like

sonofstan - December 16, 2010

It’s not a parallel Jim, it’s a wildly inaccurate mis-representation. To argue from something being ‘a bit like’ something to the notion that ‘really’ it’s ‘just like’ it, is nonsensical.

Like

Ramzi Nohra - December 16, 2010

what international parallel would be more useful then, given we are talking about a situation with “ethnic”/national tensions and a working class stretching across the divide?

Like

Ramzi Nohra - December 16, 2010

by the way SoS – I’m not trying to be snarky with the above, i dont think Jim was saying South Africa=Northern Ireland (in fact he explicitly wasnt) but rather looking for parallels in terms of the limitations of gaining cross-working class solidarity.

Like

sonofstan - December 16, 2010

In my view the parallel is much closer to home. In essence, the Unionist state was a Tory state, through and through – the sisterhood of the two parties is not accidental. Don’t forget, the English party is still able to command sizable working- class support, and, up to about a generation ago, so was the Scottish one.

The alliance that ruled NI for 50 years was the same toffs plus bosses plus ‘nationalist’ (in this case, unionist) working- class that has ruled Britain for the majority of the last century. The sectarianism was an added, nasty bit of business on top of this formula, aided by the inherent corruption of a small backward province and, obviously, by the contested history of the state’s genesis. Basically, the UP was able to behave the way Tories in the rest of the UK would have wished to.

There is no ‘ethnic’ divide in Ireland – as I think you recognise with your parentheses. And unionism is separable from Toryism – I believe it is perfectly possible to both a sincere unionist and a socialist, and I would be interested to hear who agrees with me on this?

Like

sonofstan - December 16, 2010

‘possible to be both…’

Like

Ramzi Nohra - December 16, 2010

Ok interesting stuff SoS. By the way the Scottish Tory vote was often predicated on Orange issues, so there is a direct connection with NI.

Unionism is a form of nationalism as you say, so I think someone could be a sincere unionist and socialist to the same extent as they could be an Irish nationalist, or indeed Zionist, and a socialist.

I am not sure however if the parallel to the British mainland (for want of a better word…) is that close. I think the sectarianism and contested history of the state, both of which you mention, render the parallel unworkable.

I am also not sure what you mean by the Tories would have acted like the UP if they could. If you mean they would have liked to run a cross-class alliance in the favour of capitalism and landowners, then I would agree. (By cross-class I mean they wanted to gain workign class votes, not that they would do anything to help the working class apart from mouth plattitudes about national enemies)

Like

Garibaldy - December 16, 2010

What about parallels to the green tories down below?

Like

LeftAtTheCross - December 16, 2010

“it is perfectly possible to both a sincere unionist and a socialist”

From the context of your post, where you define Unionism as British Nationalism (or Ulster Nationalism?), yes it is possible to identify with both nationalism and socialism. It’s a messy position, but one which is widespread. By messy I mean it contradicts the internationalism which is inherent in socialism.

Like

Dr. X - December 17, 2010

>>>For a start there was a slogan in one strike in the SAs mines in I think the 20s which was “Workers of teh world unite and keep SA white”.

Which didn’t save them from being bombed from the air by the Royal South African Air Force.

Like

19. sonofstan - December 16, 2010

What about parallels to the green tories down below?

Hell’s too good for them….

Like

20. toland - December 16, 2010

The Special Powers Act was not directed at Catholics anymore than the Offences against the State Act in the South was. both acts sought to defend the respective states against armed attack from within. They might not have been just but neither was sectarian
The Loyalist strike was not against a moderate reform package. It was against the Council of Ireland which was seen as a sell-out of the Union

Like

WorldbyStorm - December 16, 2010

Except that it was used in an explicitly sectarian fashion and was part of an overall societal dynamic that saw Nationalists as inherently other.

re Sunningdale, hmmm… not so sure most Unoinists at the time if I recall the polling data were willing to go for power sharing, which was a key aspect of your moderate reform package. Indeed the political power of those most staunchly opposed merely increased across the decade.

Like

21. Joe - December 16, 2010

“There is no ‘ethnic’ divide in Ireland”.

I don’t agree. I believe that the nationalists and unionists in NI are two distinct ethnic groups. We know, do we not, that the unionists came to Ireland in the 17th century. They didn’t integrate with the native population at the time or since. The two communities remained separate while living side by side in the same area. I would suggest that Serb/Croat thing would be similar – same language (as far as I know), living side by side, covering a broad area, different religions – but everyone knows whether they are a Serb or a Croat, like everyone in NI knows which “ethnic group” they belong to.

“I believe it is perfectly possible to both a sincere unionist and a socialist, and I would be interested to hear who agrees with me on this?”

I agree with you 100% on this SoS. We had a thread on here some time back in which I “described” this socialist unionist. It was Sam McAughtry – only half joking, there were plenty more and potentially about a million of them.

Like

WorldbyStorm - December 16, 2010

Thing is that that also implies that one can be a socialist and a nationalist, equally sincerely, or a republican and a socialist, given that unoinism is as much a national identity as nationalism/republicanism, which by the way is a proposition I tend to agree with though I also think LATC’s point is correct that it gets messy and has problematicals not merely in terms of internationalism, but also in how it operates on the ground as regards different communities.

Like

22. sonofstan - December 16, 2010

The unionists came to Ireland in the 17th c.? before there was even a union? they must be very old at this stage….

Seriously, people may ‘know’ what ethnic group they belong to, but that’s hardly an index of any objective dstinction. People ‘know’ all sorts of thing about themselves that are rarely supported by evidence.

Like

Joe - December 17, 2010

I disagree completely. I met a bloke from the Shankill years ago. We discussed nationality. He said to me that his grandad brought him up to tell the truth. So whenever he was asked what his nationality was he answered “British”. He knows.
I’m Irish. I know. But a study of the genetic make-up of the indigenous peoples of Britain and Ireland has found that there’s little or nothing to distinguish any of them from the rest.
Tell me I’m British or tell that bloke from the Shankill that he’s not and you’ll get the same thing from each of us – an objective box in the mouth.

Like

sonofstan - December 17, 2010

Well yes and no…

Obviously, as you say, and I agree, national identity is 90+% a matter of ‘being able to say who you are’ – I’m Irish, and in this regard I’m fairly certain I will remain so, but I would, as I think would a fairly large proportion of Irish people, be entitled to a British passport, if I so desired. The point is, there is, often, some element of choice, tempered by circumstance here.

But now take another ‘marker’ of identity – religion. I was baptised, communed and confirmed, and as far as the RCC is concerned, I’m probably a catholic, but as far as I’m concerned I’m certainly not, and I would fight to the last ditch any attempt to include me. Still, though, what I know of religion and religious thought is certainly based on that upbringing, and the ability of the catholic church to annoy me more than anyone else probably attests to the fact that in some highly mediated way, catholicism is still part of my identity.

But my core point above was that the idea of ‘ethnic’ identity brings a whole new discourse of exclusion and privilege with it, and this is why I don’t like people using the idea of ‘ethnic’ identity when they simply mean national identity, which works the way you say.

It would be possible for me – as it is for your friend in Belfast – to pass as British: people might notice the accent, and so on, but I could explain that I grew up in Ireland and so on, but that I’d always considered myself ‘British’ – I might or might not get away with it in all circumstances, but its not absurd to imagine. And similarly, immigrants – and their offspring – to the UK from, Asia and the Caribbean can ‘decide’ to be British, and while Tory backwoodsmen and racists might dispute their right to it, it’s generally acceptable as a self- ascriptive property.

Now try being black in the US or SA (or the UK) and ‘pass’ as white….that’s a whole different level of exclusion and level of determinate identity formation. Which is why I would reserve the term ‘ethnic’ for political and social exclusions and conflicts and identity formation based on the kind of membranes that are not so easily traversed or negotiated.

Like

Joe - December 17, 2010

Cheers SoS. Yes, it is complicated and maybe I elided ethnic and national.
Funnily enough, the chap I mentioned from the Shankill – I worked with him in Holland during a student summer about 30 years ago. Another chap in the factory was from Dublin, a very plummy Protestant going to Trinity. We all got on and the Belfast lad was fascinated – “I knew there were Protestants in the south but I never thought I’d meet one”. The funny thing was yer man from Belfast used to get hassled by the English police at airports etc whereas the lad from Dublin would sail through as the police recognised a member of the ruling class when they heard one.

Like

23. Jim Monaghan - December 16, 2010

“The unionists came to Ireland in the 17th c.? before there was even a union? they must be very old at this stage”
To refer to pre Act of Union” Ireland as somewhat independent is sort of bizarre. I will avoid a comparison.
Nationalism tends to divide between ethnically based and state based.
I prefer to think of it being a dynamic formation in Ireland. Sort of Tones project of uniting and leaving behind the sectarian repression and looking forward to unity of Defenders and the equivalent against a common enemny.

Like

24. shane - December 16, 2010

“It was against the Council of Ireland which was seen as a sell-out of the Union”

Funnily enough the Government of Ireland Act (which the Unionists were so opposed to repealing) envisaged a Council of Ireland.

Like

WorldbyStorm - December 16, 2010

This I had forgotten Shane. You’re entirely correct.

Like

25. Dr. X - December 17, 2010

Has anyone been to the 1641 Depositions exhibit in TCD? I didn’t realise that the statements of survivors of the massacres were part of a wider discourse of what I suppose we have to call ‘martyrology’ in the sixteenth century – and that in those days the religious identity was more important than the ethnonational one.

Like

26. Starkadder - December 18, 2010

On the subject of the proposed Ulster Trade Union
Congress, I believe this idea was later raised during the 1977 United Unionist Action Council
(which the B&ICO also supported, if memory serves
me right).

Ian Adamson discussed the UTUC idea briefly in his 1987 book “The identity of Ulster”.

Like

27. Discounts - July 17, 2012

Wonderful work! This is the type of info that are supposed to be shared across the net. Shame on the seek engines for not positioning this submit higher! Come on over and talk over with my website . Thank you =)

Like


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: